Bloomberg View: Why It's Time to Get Tough With Egypt

The U.S. must use aid as leverage with the country’s new leaders
Egyptian supporters of the military’s removal of President Mohamed Mursi celebrate outside the presidential palace on July 19 in Cairo Photograph by Scott Nelson/Redux

After Egypt’s 2011 revolution, the U.S. was at pains to emphasize to Egypt’s new leaders the value of the rule of law. So it has been discomfiting to watch the Obama administration ignore it since the July 3 overthrow of elected President Mohamed Mursi.

The military takeover was clearly a coup. Yet the U.S. has been pretending otherwise to get around a law that requires the suspension of U.S. aid to any country in those circumstances. The administration presumably worries that suspending $1.55 billion in yearly aid, $1.3 billion of which goes to the military, would threaten the peace between Egypt and Israel, as well as Egypt’s stability. The Obama administration may also fret that suspending the handouts would weaken the relationship between the Egyptian and U.S. militaries. This may be true. But if the relationship wasn’t strong or deep enough to dissuade the Egyptian brass from overthrowing an elected president, maybe it’s not all that valuable in the first place.

In any case, a cutoff of U.S. aid needn’t last long. The administration could work with Congress to legally waive the sanctions. There is a precedent: After the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush won congressional approval to restore assistance to Pakistan that had been halted because of a 1999 coup led by General Pervez Musharraf.

The administration might also use the occasion as leverage with Egypt. Mursi is still being held by the military; he should be released. The Egyptian military should stop arresting and working up charges against the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, as it did during the days of former President Hosni Mubarak. The restoration of aid should also be conditioned on the holding of new free and fair elections.

Of course, all of this will be something of a charade, because it’s unlikely Congress would deny the administration’s request; only a few members of Congress have so far called for suspending aid to Egypt. At least that would contain the duplicity to the political process instead of casting doubt on the U.S.’s devotion to a core principle such as the rule of law.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE